The Museum Bell

"The Museum Bell" is a short story by William Horwood. It was first printed in Lands of Never: an anthology of modern fantasy edited by Maxim Jakubowski. This anthology was published in 1983, by Unwin Paperbacks (based in London). Its ISBN is 0048232394, and the net price listed is £2.50.

The title page verso includes the statement that "Copyright in the individual stories belongs to the writers or their heirs or executors. The Museum Bell © Steppenmole Enterprises Ltd."

The brief editor's introduction describes "The Museum Bell" as "the first short story of William Horwood, the celebrated author of the animal fantasy Duncton Wood and the impressive The Stonor Eagles. [...] Horwood here offers us a quiet but powerful tale about the influence of a fascinating object on the minds of three men." (Jakubowski, Maxim. [ed]. Lands of Never. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1983. p. 21)

"The Museum Bell" is told in the first person by an Assistant Keeper of the Museum, and it is set somewhere in the 1970s, although the narrative moves back to 1939, when the character Edvard Rothenstein is a child, then patchily through his life, touching also on John Garrdner, the Museum's curator. The Museum Bell of the title is "resting on a marble floor in the alcove of a great staircase." It is "Tibetan, 9th Century AD." (p. 35).

Moving as it does through time and with focus on each of these three main characters, "The Museum Bell" is layered and complex, indeed difficult to follow at points. Some 20 pages long, it is not a particularly fantastical story to my mind; rather, it is introspective, with the peculiar event much less of a focus than are the character's thoughts.

It strongly reminded me of both The Stonor Eagles and Callanish, with those themes of making sense of the past, of a repeated thread in characters' lives, and of a disconnect from others that is soothed by stories.

I became aware of "The Museum Bell" in April 2007, from the bibliography of William Horwood's works on ISFDB. In May, I borrowed a copy of Lands of Never through interlibrary loan from the Toronto Public Library.

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"The Museum Bell" was translated into German as "Die Museumsglocke". Lands of Never was published in German as Phantasien aus Niemalsland in 1985 by Klett-Cotta Hobbit (Hobbit Press) with the ISBN 3608952543. Christa L. Cordes translated the story.

Part of Website created and maintained by Katherine Delany. Updated June 19, 2011.